Lessons From Lack of Church Attendance

A response to blogger makiah-isms and a personal reflection on my own lessons about God from not attending church. When you can grow more spiritually during a hiatus from church, it signals a problem with the so-called church.

Introduction

This morning a friend of mine shared a link and asked for my opinion/reaction. In short, it's a blog post about the lessons a Black woman has learned since leaving the church.

My Church Experiences

It makes complete sense that someone would send me this post—I may be the most religious, non-religious person I've ever met. I grew up in the church; my paternal grandfather was a deacon in the Baptist church, my maternal grandmother was and my maternal grandfather is a deacon in the Methodist Church. So I guess I come from a religious family, except, my parents didn't really go to church on the regular. Until I was 5, we kind of bounced around from my dad's Baptist church, the local AME church, and the new first-integrated (in our town) Methodist Church my mom's parents helped establish. When I was 5, I started going to my dad's church almost exclusively because it was across the street and I could go whether my parents went or not. I was kind of an anomaly all those Sundays, because most of the kids' parents made them come and made them stay—mine didn't. I was the rebel in church. I asked questions people didn't want to answer and took "come as you are" as an indication that I could wear jeans and a t-shirt to the services.

I quit attending that church after years of questioning some of their policies came to a head when the youth leader told me I wasn't Christian. I didn't quit because I believed him; I quit because he made me mad (I was quite short tempered back then), but since he was my elder, I couldn't say anything back (at least not what was on my mind). His assessment that I wasn't a Christian stemmed from the fact that I was not a member of their church nor baptized. I knew I wasn't going to ever be a member of that church because they argued about whether to let people take communion or not; they argued about how many times a year a person could get sick and receive flowers from the church; they couldn't tell me what Baptism actually stood for or how it differed from Christening in terms of symbolism (which is a defining difference between Baptists, who don't believe in what amounts to baptizing an infant, and Methodists); they refused to let my mom, who was a member of the Methodist church, be mother of the year despite calling her to help with any and every thing both before and long after I left the church, on the grounds that she too "wasn't Christian" (oh and cherry on top, they gave the award to a woman without kids instead!); the preacher refused to service a funeral for the daughter of the church superintendent and mother of three kids in the church because the deceased "wasn't a Christian." I knew that they were missing a whole lot of Jesus' message and I wasn't about to link myself with them.

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From my Junior year in high school through my freshman year of college I continued reading the Bible, I attended Bible studies, and volunteered with the youth group at the AME church I'd been Christened into, but I didn't go to church services. During college I started attending a non-denominational campus church. When they hired a new preacher who preached more about his life struggling with weed than anything else, my friends and I started looking for a new church and bounced around a bit. After I graduated, I went back to not attending church and discovered the truth about the Sabbath (because stopping your relationship with the man-centered tradition of church is not equivalent to stopping your relationship with God). I attended a Seventh Day Adventist Church once, but I didn't like how they kept talking about Ellen White's writings as though they were on par with the Bible; so I never went back. It's probably been 4 or 5 years since I attended a church service, but I'm adamant about keeping the Sabbath holy (series on this topic forthcoming).

So, yeah, I fully understand how and why people walk away from the church. During my time outside of the church, I've learned way more than I ever did in church. The most important thing I learned (well, I had an inkling but I didn't know) is that "the Church" of the Bible refers to the body of Christ, the believers in general. It isn't a building or a place, and once you join the body of Christ you are automatically a member of His church. Whether I'm a member of First Baptist Church or Crossroads Baptist or First Hope AME or whatever, once I truly believed in God and accepted His Son as my saviour, I became a member of His Church everywhere. The second most important thing I learned is that the church doesn't treat the Bible well, they don't stress reading the Bible, and they don't explain how the Bible works. When you stop and think about the fact that many denominations require you to have a degree to be a preacher (not Baptists of course), and that you can get a PhD in Biblical theology, you should realize that reading the Bible is not like reading Dr. Seuss. It's complicated, that's why there are so many denominations and disagreements on doctrines. This latter lesson became very apparent to me in this young woman's list.

After discussing the list, I became moved to share my thoughts publicly.
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Her Lessons

You can find her original post here; I'm just going to stick to commenting on the lessons she says she's learned.
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1. God is not a man

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?Numbers 23:19 KJV
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2. There is no pre-determined path called “God’s will” that I must discover and adhere to in order to experience God’s grace, love, and favor

This one is kind of tricky because it's missing some words to me. There is a pre-determined path often referred to as "God's Will," otherwise, how could He accurately send us prophecies of what was going to happen? If He didn't plan to send Jesus to be born of a virgin woman at a specific time, how would He have given Isaiah and Daniel prophetic dreams to signal Jesus' coming? How could He prophesy the events of the end times if He didn't know what would happen?

Now, I agree that you don't have to know anything about this path or be following it to find God's grace, love, and favor. Paul is a perfect example of that. He was out doing his own thing when Jesus came to him. God has a direct line to us; even if we want to ignore Him, if He wants to shower you with some love, He will. However, when God calls you and choose not to follow the path He's telling you to follow, well, Jonah tried that and ended up in the belly of a fish. I would not recommend trying that out.
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3. As a Black woman, I have the power and autonomy to make my own decisions

This is another one, that I think it really depends on what she means by this. Does she mean she has the power and autonomy outside of the church? Certainly, this is true. Outside of society and it's expectations? Definitely true. Outside of a husband? Sure. Outside of God? Nah, that's dangerous ground there. I mean, sure you have the free will to do whatever you want, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should... Eve thought she had the autonomy to make her own decisions and look where that got us. Being Black and woman doesn't make you less autonomous or weak, I agree with her there. I am loved by God just as much as a White person or an Asian person or whatever, as much a man, etc. Consulting God about your decisions is definitely a good idea, though; He knows everything, and we only know a little... I guess this is tied in to #2, her disbelief that God has a plan may be leading her to think she should create her own plan. There's nothing wrong with creating a plan, but you should check with God to make sure your plan checks out.
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4. Material success isn’t an indicator of God’s presence

19Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.Matthew 6:19-21 KJV
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.Matthew 19:24
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5. God’s grace is sufficient, even when my works aren’t

Yes and no... The thief on the cross did absolutely nothing; he believed and he was saved by grace. Of course, I'm sure had he lived after his revelation, he would have been expected to follow Jesus. The tricky thing with the works vs. grace debate is that both sides are actually right. You will fail and mess up, even after you give yourself to God; the learning curve is steep and old habits die hard. However, your faith is what will move you to do the work. I didn't earn God's grace because I learned to control my temper, I learned to control my temper because I have God's grace. The closer I get to God, the more my actions testify to His presence. Again, this is a tricky wording, don't want people to follow the line of thought that because they believe they can do whatever they want.
17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
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6. I don’t need a church home in order to facilitate a relationship with God

The above commentary on my life shows I stand with her on this one.
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7. Accountability is often (but not always) used as an excuse for control and spiritual manipulation

I'll give her this one. While I think accountability is important, most people get caught up in mean-spirited, holier-than-thou attitudes that totally ruins any good it can achieve.
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8. These pastors ain’t loyal

I wrote a post a while back on the danger of putting all your faith in the pastor. You can read that post here. Top

9. My salvation is already solidified and there’s nothing I can do or say to separate myself from God’s love

That's a rosy thought, unfortunately it's not quite true. Salvation is about both believing in Jesus, but also about putting God first. Both Jesus and God tell us that if we love them, we will keep the commandments. Now, I don't think one misstep is going to catapult you from saved to not saved in the blink of an eye; most of the patriarchs messed up at some point in their life, and God forgave them. The same will be true for us, but purposefully abandoning God's love (i.e. turning away from what He says is good for us by breaking His commandments) is going to eventually separate you from God. Low hanging fruit: if you were take the mark of the beast tomorrow, you would separate yourself from God...
21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.Matthew 7:21-23 KJV

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10. Women are fully capable of leading churches, nations, and their families

This is an interesting one. There are examples of women leading in the Bible, and if you pay enough attention, there are clear swaps of what we consider gender-roles today. For instance, in Genesis, when Abraham's servant goes in search of a wife for Isaac, it is the man (Laban) who prepares the house for the guest not the woman (Rebekah). We see that Rachel, Jacob's wife, was acting as a shepherd (which also seems to be "a man's job"). When Abraham complains to God about his wife's request, God tells Abraham to do what his wife asked. When Israel is in trouble it is Esther who saves them. It is Deborah who saves them. So yes, there are clear signs that women are capable of great things. However, women are cautioned by Paul not to take dominion over men. This leads people to say that women can't be preachers and the like.

Based on examples throughout the Bible and Paul's outline of a woman's place in the church, I think it's clear that women were not supposed to be leading men when it came to matters of the church (see 1 Timothy 2:8-15), but that women were permitted leadership roles. Mariam, sister of Moses, is the first woman to be called a prophetess. Clearly she had a role of importance, but it was Moses who was called to lead the people and Aaron who was called to be the high priest. In the cases where a woman takes over the role of leadership, it is because the men are failing miserably. Isaiah 3 basically calls it a laughing stock that women would have to rule over the people.

I don't think it's so much about capability, so much as necessity. Women should not need to lead the church, the nation, or their families. God created men with the expectation that they would do such things. Many try to explain this as punishment for Eve convincing Adam to eat the fruit in the garden, but the Bible makes it clear that Adam was more-so to blame. Adam was the first created; he was supposed to lead and convince her not to eat the fruit. 1 Timothy 2:14 says that Eve was deceived (i.e. she was confused and didn't understand what she was doing), but Adam was not (he knew exactly what they were doing and chose not to lead, but to follow). God commands man to lead, not because a woman cannot, but because Adam's inability to take the lead is what plunged us into sin—God wants men to prove they could lead.

This is a classic case of can vs. should. Yes, women are capable of leading, but men should be leading. If the men do not lead, then a woman will take over.
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11. Sexuality and spirituality aren’t mutually exclusive

When I first read this "lesson" I really wanted her to clarify her use of the word sexuality. Are talking about be confident in yourself and enjoying your husband sexually? (You know there was a point in time where people believed that women didn't/couldn't/shouldn't enjoy sex...) Is she talking about promiscuity? Is she talking about homosexuality? The Bible is clear that God intended for sex to take place between a husband and wife, so if she means those latter options, I'm going to disagree. However, if she means that you can be a woman of God and still keep a spark lit for your husband, I'll agree.
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12. God’s blessings were never dependent upon my willingness or ability to tithe

The discussion of tithing in the church has run amuck for a while. Back home, there was a church that required parishoners to bring in their W2 to prove they gave 10%. Really? I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that "tithe" is equivalent to money. Money didn't always exist, though. I think it is important to give to God and I think that when you give willingly, God provides for you. As a graduate student, I don't have a lot of money but if I see someone in need and I have the money at the moment, I'll give it. (Note for the confused: Jesus said when you do for the least of our neighbors we do for Him; you don't have to give to the church to give to God!) Of course, I can guarantee my contributions to family, friends, strangers, charities, etc. do not make up 10% of my income. Yet, money isn't the most valuable thing I have or the only fruit of my labor... #TimeForATestimony

I'm a computer scientist and my research focuses on embedded systems, a little closer to computer engineering than computer science. When I started re-reading the Bible, I dedicated time to create this blog. I knew how to program, but I didn't know HTML or CSS, JavaScript or JQuery. These 4 languages are what I use to control this blog; it's how I can customize the template and add in new features. I probably spent over 10% of my time editing the template for this site and once I finished it, I've been spending that time creating the content. God gave me the ability to manipulate computers with ease, so I use that gift to give back to Him. Now, it may not have been wise to take time out from studying to do a side blog when I can barely keep up with my schoolwork, but when I did an interview a few months back, they spent a decent portion asking me web design questions using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript... The only reason I could answer those questions was because I decided to use the gift God gave me to glorify Him. By giving to God, even when I thought I wasn't able, He turned it into a blessing.

I don't know what will happen if you don't tithe, but I do know that just because you don't feel able, doesn't mean you actually aren't able. I do agree that the church places an emphasis on tithing that is clearly motivated by self gain, which is not right, however.
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13. Jesus never mentioned most of the “sins” I was taught in church

This is another one I need clarity on to comment. I didn't attend her church, so I can't be certain what sins she's talking about. What I do know is that Jesus confirmed the law of the Old Testament (I have a few posts on the specifics of this; you can check them out here); Jesus said not one dot or tittle would be removed from the law before Heaven and Earth passed away. Since we're still here, those laws are still in effect. Thus, for this lesson to be true, the sins in question must be absent from the Bible altogether. Now, having sat through some downright horrible sermons, I have no doubt that she may actually be referencing "sins" that aren't in the Bible at all.
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14. Western Christianity is the farthest thing from what the original church sought out to accomplish

Pretty much. When Rome championed the task of spreading Christianity, they mixed in a lot of paganism, then the Roman Catholic Church basically highlighted the parts they wanted to manipulate people and escalate their power. The tithing issue above is an example; as long as the church kept the people afraid that lack of tithing would cost them eternity, the church could stay rich and the people would remain poor. We really have to study the Word and let the Holy Spirit do the explaining to see the truth and realize how far we've drifted.
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15. Spiritualized self-help is not the Gospel

I wasn't sure if her lesson meant to say that God can't help us? I mean, if I'm lying on the floor bleeding to death, sure I need medical attention, but I do think that if I can't move, prayer for God to send me some help is my best shot... When I think of self-help, however, I think more of a mental focus. Here I would have to disagree again. I definitely had anger management issues as a child/teenager. The only things I've ever formally done is ask God for help, yet most people who've met me post asking God for help have never seen me mad. I used to go off on people at least once a week, now I may go months without getting upset and when I do get upset, I'm usually able to handle the situation calmly.
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16. Anyone claiming to have all the answers clearly doesn’t

This is true for anything: Christianity, finance, life, love, world peace...
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17. White evangelicals (and the Black evangelicals spouting the same white, patriarchal values) are modern manifestations of neocolonialism.

This one made me laugh when I first read it; I was waiting for her to shout "White Jesus!" I'm not sure of the specifics she means by patriarchal—is she simply referencing male dominated society, is she referring to the patriarchs of the Bible, or is she referencing the white-washing of the Bible? Well, there's definitely been some white-washing. There are also those who will twist the words of the Bible for their own purposes (Jesus warns us about these false prophets quite often).
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18. The people who condemn a particular sin the most are typically the ones struggling with it

Possibly. It's also possible that it simply makes them feel better. For instance, shaming someone because they're a murderer, but you're a habitual liar. People shaming gays but they have premarital sex. I think sometimes people just do this to make them feel better about the sins they commit—the "at least I'm not a murderer" syndrome. In the end, sin is sin.
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19. Heather Lindsey lied. About all of it

Who is Heather Lindsey? *shrug* Top

20. I don’t have to choose between being a woman, being unapologetically Black, and being a believer

This is one of those things I never struggled with, so I can't really comment on where she's coming from. God loves all of His children; He created all of us. So, obviously, we don't have to become male or White to be a believer. When she says unapologetically Black, I'm curious if that means natural hair/proud of her heritage, which seems like a given, or something entirely different.
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My Lessons

Reading her list inspired my to come up with my own list of what I've learned since I left the building to focus on the body.
  1. There is absolutely nothing Biblical about treating Sunday as though it's the Sabbath.
  2. Keeping the Sabbath holy isn't about going to Church and most of us are so caught up in our day-to-day lives, that we only keep a portion of the Sabbath Holy.
  3. Christmas has nothing to with Jesus.
  4. Easter also has nothing to with Jesus.
  5. Most Biblical quotes are quoted out of context (for instance, right after "wives submit to your husband" it says "husbands love your wives" and in the Old Testament, newly married men were required to take a whole year off from work to take the time to make their wives happy).
  6. Having fellowship with other believers is important.
  7. A lot of end time Biblical prophecies have already come true.
  8. Speaking of, the end of the world is not quite as scary as the church made it sound when you actually understand the what, why, how, and who.
  9. Actually putting God first in your life is refreshing.
  10. People have a hard time separating faith and church attendance; they often use church attendance as a measure of your faith, but the Bible never suggests such a thing.
  11. I learned what gifts of the spirit I actually have.
  12. People, including non-believers, have a preset idea of what being Christian means or who God is which often doesn't align with the Bible at all (likely due to the lack of Bible reading/teaching in the Church). Not attending church generally causes these people to look at you as a heathen and assume you don't know what you're talking about.
  13. Reading the Bible is just as important as prayer, possibly even more-so when you don't have a solid foundation. The devil answers prayers too; you won't be able to distinguish God's answer from the devil's if you don't know God's voice!
  14. God does not change. (Malachi 3:6)
  15. I should be following the dietary laws, which involve a lot more than just not eating pork; even the New Testament confirms that we shouldn't consume blood (Acts 15:20,29).
  16. You can be educated and still have a strong faith in God (Moses was highly educated).
  17. The more you know, the more you're responsible for.
  18. Many of the people who attend church every Sunday will never bother to ask you why you left; they will assume you lost faith and never think it's a reflection on their church.
  19. My iTunes playlist, as well as, my DVR needed an overhaul; being a follower of God is not likely to be hip or cool, and what is hip and cool is not likely of God.
  20. God was steering me to Him from a very young age; I might not have been able to consent to a Christening, but it clearly jump started my relationship with Him.

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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